Thursday, 17 August 2017

The opening of the exhibition ‘Meeting Place’ and unveiling of new work ‘The Messenger’ - 17 August 2017

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Our distinguished guests Michael Nelson Jagamara and Imants Tillers; my parliamentary colleagues; Jude Barlow, elder of the Ngunnawal people; Ladies and Gentlemen.

Today we meet to launch Meeting Place, a new exhibition of works by two of this country’s finest artists, Michael Nelson Jagamara and Imants Tillers. Like some of the greatest and most productive relationships in history, this artistic partnership was born out of a chance encounter and has grown and flourished over the years since.

You can glimpse the results of this journey as you walk through the exhibition of works that the artists have produced over their careers, separately and collaboratively.

We also welcome into the collection of the Australian Parliament, The Messenger, a major artwork by these men that draws deeply on what it means to be Australian.

Michael and Imants are contemporaries, but they arrived at this collaboration from distinctive beginnings.

One, a man from Yuendumu, living in Papunya, in the Northern Territory, schooled in the Western Desert tradition.

One, an urban artist, Sydney-born, of Latvian heritage, whose artistic preoccupations have included the themes of displacement and diaspora.

In this new work – and in this exhibition – the two artists bring to bear not only every ounce of their individual artistic talent but also something shared.

It is very fitting that this work finds a lasting home here at Parliament House, and that we today launch this exhibition of their individual and collaborative works, because both of the artists involved have links with this building going back to the very beginning.

Michael Nelson Jagamara’s vast and stunning Forecourt mosaic is the first thing - and the last thing - seen by hundreds of thousands of people every year when they visit our Parliament.

Commissioned at the time of the building’s construction, the fabricators of the Forecourt mosaic spent 9 months hand-guillotining some 100,000 granite pieces, each from 5-10 cm in diameter, selected to interpret Michael’s palette of colours.

The mosaic links the fortunes and future of our young democracy to the oldest living culture.

Interestingly, the central themes of the mosaic are referenced openly in this latest collaboration between Michael and Imants.

Other works by Michael Nelson Jagamara included in the Parliament House collection are two paintings submitted as designs for the forecourt mosaic, and a later painting from the mid-1990s.

Imants Tillers also enjoys a relationship with the building that goes back to the days of construction and the beginnings of the art collection. Several of his early works were chosen by the Artworks Advisory Committee for inclusion in the collection after it was established, and the collection now contains 20 of Imants’ works, including the appropriately-named Meeting Place.

Works by both artists are included in this new exhibition, developed to coincide with the unveiling of the new acquisition. The exhibition includes joint and individual works – a fascinating insight into how the distinctive styles of these two great artists, forged in individual practice, come together to create something entirely new, through collaboration.

The Messenger, which we unveil today, is the third major Indigenous acquisition for the Parliament House Art Collection in recent years. And it joins more than 600 contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works in the collection – roughly one in every six contemporary works we own is by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist.

This is part of a targeted acquisition policy to ensure that our collection reflects the depth and breadth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual art practice. Our collecting practices are also undertaken in accordance with the Charter of Principles for Publicly Funded Collecting Institutions, which promotes professional best practice in the acquisition and management of artworks by Indigenous artists.

We are proud of the approach we take to collecting art by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, but we are prouder still that this building is now home to such outstanding artworks from Indigenous artists from across Australia at the height of their creative powers.

While the new acquisition is yet to be unveiled, it may be that some of you who have spent some time in Canberra, in and around this building, will recognise the work when the covers come off.

That’s because this new acquisition was the subject of one of the illuminated projections created for the façade of Parliament House for the Enlighten Festival earlier this year … another way in which we can help art speak to new and different audiences, and another way in which the Parliament can share the highlights of our collection with the broader community.

I would now like to call on Michael Eather to say a few words about the exhibition and the new work we will unveil in a moment.

***

Thank you all.

Now, it is with great pleasure that I declare open this exhibition, Meeting Place – a collection of works by Michael Nelson Jagamara and Imants Tillers.

I invite Michael and Imants to join me and the Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services, Rob Stefanic, in unveiling this latest major acquisition by the Parliament House art collection – The Messenger.

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